Category Archives: Workers’ Compensation

How First Responders Would Be Treated if 9/11 Happened in Nebraska

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Sept. 11 was tragic for the victims who died at ground zero after the attacks on the World Trade Center. But, the lasting effects of the dust and particulates that filled the air after the collapse of the towers have caused ongoing health issues for numerous other victims: first responders who were not killed in the initial collapse of the buildings.

Fortunately, the federal government came to the aid of these first responders by enacting the James Zadroga Act, which provides free testing and treatment for first responders of the 9/11 attacks. However, had this act not been enacted, how would these workers, who have developed health problems from working at ground zero, have been treated under the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act?

First, the ailments developed by the first responders would be treated as occupational diseases under Nebraska law. If the disease or ailment of the first responder is shown to be a result of the exposure while working at ground zero, the treatment and indemnity would be covered like any other Nebraska Workers’ Compensation claim.

If the first responder died as a result of the occupational disease, under Nebraska law, the surviving spouse would be entitled to death benefits under the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act.

The biggest gap in workers’ compensation coverage under Nebraska law for occupational diseases occurs when the injured worker (or in this case, the first responder) does not develop symptoms or the disease until later in life. In a situation like that, if the occupational disease first manifests (or becomes an injury) after the injured worker has retired for unrelated reasons, the injured worker would be left without indemnity benefits. In other words, the injured worker could get no workers’ compensation money if he or she was retired when the disease showed up. Further, if the injured worker dies as a result of the occupational disease, but is retired at the time the disease becomes an injury, his or her surviving spouse would not be entitled to any money either.  See Olivotto v. DeMarco Bros. Co., 273 Neb. 672 (2007): the widow whose husband died from asbestos exposure was not entitled to indemnity because her husband had been retired for 23 years when mesothelioma manifested.

Thus, if 9/11 happened in Nebraska, first responders who develop an occupational disease later in life might not be fully covered under workers’ compensation laws without some sort further government intervention like the James Zadroga Act.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in employment law, Workers' Compensation and tagged , , , , .

First Responders, Retaliation and Labor Law

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First responders and correctional employees aren’t immune from retaliation from their employers when they turn in work injuries for the unique hazards that they face. However, most first responders, law enforcement and corrections employees have some additional job protections against retaliation. This post is meant to give first responders, law enforcement and corrections employees a basic overview of the job protections they have as union and public sector employees. Those rights can be summed up in three words: Weingarten, Garrity and Loudermill.

Weingarten Rights

Weingarten rights are named after the Supreme Court decision that holds that union members have a right to have a union official present in a disciplinary meeting with supervisors or a meeting that could lead to discipline. Though Weingarten doesn’t apply to public sector unions, most public sector unions, including NAPE/AFSCME in Nebraska, make Weingarten rights part of their collective bargaining agreement.

Weingarten rights can be trampled on when aggressive employers claim they just want to talk to employees rather than subject employees to the third degree. This can be especially prevalent in corrections and law enforcement where supervisors are trained in interrogation techniques.

If you have been subject to an interrogation like this, you need to let your union representative know right away.

Garrity Rights

Garrity rights give public sector employees, regardless of whether they are in a union or not, the right to not incriminate themselves in an investigation that could lead to discipline. Employers will give a Garrity warning similar to a Miranda-type warning. In my experience, Garrity rights can be a bit dubious. Employee misconduct that would justify termination doesn’t always rise to the level of anything remotely illegal. This is especially true if an employer is trying to manufacture evidence to retaliate against a worker. But under Garrity, an employee can be terminated for refusing to answer questions. So employees may feel compelled to answer hours of questions from trained law enforcement officials for alleged misconduct that, even if true, would not rise to anything illegal. This can be a dangerous proposition because such questioning may create the appearance of dishonesty on the part of the employee. Especially in the context of law enforcement or corrections, dishonesty can be a factor that allows an employer to skip the normal progressive disciplinary procedures.

Again, employees should reach out to their union representative if they are faced with this situation.

Loudermill Rights

Loudermill rights compel public employers to give some explanation of why they are terminating an employee and give the employee some opportunity to explain why she or he should not be terminated. (7) Loudermill applies to all government employees, not just union employees. Though Loudermill gives additional protections to what typical at-will employees have, in substance, Loudermill doesn’t afford a lot of protections. In many cases, the decision to terminate has already been made, and feedback from an employee may harm the employee’s chances of winning at a personnel board, arbitration or a wrongful-termination case.

Again, employees should be reaching out to their union representative if they are subject to what is called a Loudermill hearing.

Personnel Board and Arbitration Hearings

Government employees can usually appeal terminations to a personnel board, such as the Nebraska State Personnel Board, or have a termination heard by an arbitrator if the worker is represented by a private union. These hearings are easier for employees to win than wrongful termination cases because generally the employer has the burden to show there was just cause to terminate the employee. In civil court, the employee has the burden of proof that the termination was unlawful. Those hearings can also generate evidence that can be helpful in wrongful termination cases. In many cases, the union will pick up the cost of a personnel board hearing or arbitration.

This post has repeatedly mentioned the importance of involving a union representative and the benefits to employees of a union contract. Nebraska is what is called a “right-to-work state,” which means that employees covered under a union contract cannot be forced to pay union dues. However, if workers do not pay dues, unions may not have the resources needed to fight for their members. The opinion of this firm is that unions in Nebraska, like NAPE/AFSCME, do a good job of fighting for their members, so we would encourage public employees in Nebraska to pay their union dues.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

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Fault Doesn’t Matter in Workers’ Compensation, Except When It Matters

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fingerpointingWorkers’ compensation law is founded on a compromise where employees give up the right to sue their employers for negligence in order to receive relatively certain benefits. What plaintiff’s lawyers like me don’t often say is that workers can generally collect benefits if they share some – or even all of the blame – for a work injury.

But the idea of fault has not been entirely erased from workers’ compensation law. Our colleagues at The Jernigan Law Firm in North Carolina recently discussed in a blog post how employer violations of safety rules could lead to increases in benefits, while employee violation of safety laws could lead to decreases in benefits.

Nebraska does not increase or decrease benefits based on safety-rule violations like North Carolina, but Nebraska does allow employers to avoid paying benefits if they can prove a worker’s willful negligence or intoxication was the cause of the work injury. This is a difficult burden for an employer to meet, but employees can still lose cases based upon willful negligence.

If an employer is going to claim a worker was willfully negligent because of a safety violation, a court will consider five factors as to whether an employee was willfully negligent. These factors are

  1. whether the employer had a reasonable rule designed to protect the safety and health of the employee
  2. whether the employee was on notice of the rule
  3. whether the employee understood the danger involved by violating the rule
  4. whether the rule was kept alive by bona fide enforcement and
  5. whether the employee had an excuse for the rule violation.

Whether an employee willfully violated a safety rule is a question of fact that depends on the circumstances and the credibility of the parties testifying in a case.

Nebraska law holds that ordinary negligence by a worker is not a bar to benefits. But an employer can delay benefits under the argument that but for the employee’s negligence, the employee’s injury could have been accommodated. That is an open question under Nebraska law. But if there is no question that an employee cannot work, and the worker is fired for negligence in connection with a work injury, the employer should still have to pay benefits.

Intoxication is often grouped with willful negligence under Nebraska law. It is very difficult for an employer to deny benefits based on intoxication causing the work accident. Another issue related to intoxication is when an employee tests positive for drugs after a work accident even if there is no evidence of intoxication at the time of the injury. A positive drug test will not bar an employee from receiving workers’ compensation benefits in Nebraska, but it could delay lost time or temporary disability benefits if an employer argues that temporary restrictions could be accommodated but for the employee’s termination for cause.

If an employee is not at fault for an injury, there may be other ways for an employee to be compensated. If an injury is caused by the negligence of a third party, the employee can sue that third party. If an employer retaliates against an employee for reporting an unsafe working condition that causes an injury, then the worker could pursue a retaliation case. Employees should also be skeptical if they are wrongfully blamed for a work accident, as this could be a form of retaliation. Another possible form of retaliation is when an employee is fired for having a work injury as a probationary employee or having too many injuries, regardless of fault.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in Safety Rules, Safety violations, Workers' Compensation, Workplace Injury and tagged , , , , .

How Do Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Judges End Up on the Bench?

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There are seven judges who are active in the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court. These judges are solely workers’ compensation judges and do not hear any other cases outside of the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court. Four of the judges have offices in Lincoln, and three have offices in Omaha, but the seven judges cover the entire state. Trials are conducted by these judges in the county where the work-related injury occurred. If the injury occurred outside of the state, the hearing is held in Lincoln or in any other venue to which the parties agree.

How do these judges end up on the bench? The workers’ compensation judges in Nebraska are not elected, unlike in some states. Instead, like all state-court judges in Nebraska, a pool of judicial candidates is screened and narrowed by a judicial nominating commission. These commissions are made up of both lawyers and laypersons from both political parties and also independents. After the narrowing process, the governor appoints a judge from that limited group. After the appointment, every six years, the judge will be up for a vote of the general public as to whether the judge should be retained on the bench. If the vote is to retain the judge, then that judge remains for another six-year term.

A system like this does a good job of narrowing the candidates for the governor to a group of the most qualified. Further, this process usually limits politics in the judiciary and it is greatly preferable to the states where judges are simply elected. Here is a good video explaining why.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in Courts, Government, Nebraska, Omaha, Workers' Compensation and tagged , , , .

What Does this Improper Medical Treatment Sanction from OSHA Mean?

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BoheadFor the first time ever, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently sanctioned a Pilgrim’s Pride chicken processing plant for providing improper medical treatment for employees suffering from overuse injuries. While the hazards of meatpacking work to employees is common knowledge and the packing industry is frequently sanctioned for unsafe work practices, the sanction against Pilgrim’s Pride for failing to provide medical care to their workers in Florida indicates OSHA is opening a new front in the battle for a safe workplace.

While OSHA’s sanctioning Pilgrim’s Pride for providing inadequate medical care to their injured workers is novel, their action is consistent with law that states access to prompt and appropriate medical care is crucial to pursuing a workers’ compensation claim. OSHA sanctioned Pilgrim’s Pride for failure to make timely and proper referrals to specialists for orthopedic injuries when employees sought treatment at company first-aid or nursing stations. According to OSHA, delays in treatment can lead to permanent injuries.

The fact that OSHA deems inadequate medical care to be a violation of its regulations could also mean that employees have a statutorily protected right to oppose inadequate medical care. In Nebraska, this would mean that employees could possibly sue their employers under the Nebraska Fair Employment Practices Act. Celeste Monforton, a professor of public health at George Washington University, noted in her post that employers use company health clinics not only to delay treatment but to discourage employees from seeking medical care. Some employers go so far as to discipline employees who do not get permission from their employer to seek outside medical treatment. A recent case in an Illinois federal court stated such policies were illegal.

While Nebraska does not have any case law similar to Illinois about such policies, there is a strong argument to make that such policies would be illegal under Nebraska law and under the law of any state that prohibits retaliation against employees for filing workers’ compensation claims. Policies that require notification and permission to seek medical treatment from employers could also run afoul of Nebraska’s laws allowing employees to choose their own doctors. One Nebraska court has hinted that the right to pick a doctor is a legally protected activity.

Monforton also pointed out that Pilgrim’s Pride could be committing medical malpractice by failing to provide proper care and having nurses treat injured employees without proper medical supervision.

However, packinghouses have some reason to believe that they are immune from medical malpractice suits filed by their employees against their employee health nurses. The legal shorthand for this is called the exclusive remedy. In practice, this means that an employer who provides medical treatment in a negligent manner to an employee who is treating for a work injury can only be sued in workers’ compensation court.

Of course, there are some ways around the exclusive remedy for medical care. The first exception would be that if employee health was outsourced. This would allow an employee to sue that provider directly and could also allow for a civil conspiracy or civil RICO claim.

There may also be other exceptions as well. For example, Nebraska has a Meatpacking Industry Workers Bill of Rights that states that workers employed at covered meatpacking houses have a right to a safe workplace and the right to seek benefits, including workers’ compensation. If an employer does not provide adequate medical care or provides negligent medical care, that could certainly violate the public policy behind the Meatpacking Industry Workers Bill of Rights and warrant a tort case against the packinghouses under the public policy of the state of Nebraska.

Workers’ Compensation Claim May Lead to Other Claims, Too

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Two recent incidents involving truckers and grain-processing plant workers in Nebraska make clear that work injuries don’t always just involve workers’ compensation claims. Workers’ compensation claims can lead to claims of negligence by third parties and/or develop into claims against employers for retaliating against employees.

The fundamental idea of workers’ compensation is that an employee can be compensated by the employer, regardless of fault, for a work injury. In exchange, the employee agrees to damages that are capped by law. However, if an injury is the fault of someone besides the employer, then that party can be sued for negligence. Such an incident may have happened in Lincoln earlier this week. One person was in critical condition at the hospital after he was hit while unloading a parked semi-trailer, according to this article.

“… the driver of a Freightliner full-sized delivery van reversed out of the loading dock area of Hy-Vee. As he backed up, he checked his mirrors but didn’t see another man unloading a parked semi-trailer, who was also delivering product to the store, Officer Katie Flood said.”

It appears that Mr. Scott L. Johnson, the 51-year-old Lincoln man who was hit, was the driver of the semi and was pinned between the van and his rig.

“He was out of surgery and in critical condition at Bryan West Campus Monday night, Capt. Bob Farber said.”

The incident at the Hy-Vee loading dock in southeast Lincoln just illustrates the danger posed to truckers and workers who load and unload trucks and rail cars. This danger was highlighted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s proposed fines to sanction a firm in Alliance, Nebraska, for unsafe conditions in a grain processing plant. OSHA’s Local Emphasis Program for Grain Handling hazards led to the inspection, where investigators found 17 violations and proposed $61,000 in fines.

Violations included “fall hazards up to 15 feet while accessing the tops of rail cars and from ladderway openings and platforms lacking guardrails and open-sided work platforms …”; “grain dust explosion hazards …”; “personal protective equipment needs were not evaluated …”; and “lack of an occupational noise monitoring program including audiometric testing, noise monitoring and fitting and correct use of hearing protection …” were found, among other concerns.

“New Alliance handles and processes Great Northern and Pinto dry edible beans at locations in Alliance, Bridgeport, Gering, Hemingford and Mirage Flats. The company is a division of Alliance-based Western Cooperative Company known as WESTCO,” according to this news release.

An employee who reports an injury from an unsafe condition might also be opposing potentially illegal conduct by an employer and could have a claim beyond just a work-injury claim. These claims can often arise when employers discipline or terminate employees if they are believed to have been at fault for an injury. If you are being blamed for a work injury by your company, that shouldn’t stop you from filing a workers’ compensation claim, because fault shouldn’t matter in a workers’ compensation case. If you are being blamed for an injury, you might also be able to pursue a retaliation case.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in Workers' Compensation, Workplace Injury and tagged , , , .

Trouble Flexing Your Foot Up? You May Have Foot Drop.

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Today’s blog post was written by Anthony L. Lucas from The Jernigan Law Firm in North Carolina. I think that consumers and those who have loved ones with this condition will find this information useful. Just like in a previous blog post that Mr. Lucas wrote, it is helpful to have more details about a medical concern, so a person can have the knowledge to ask questions for greater understanding of a person’s individual situation.

Though each case’s details are different, in general, if foot drop is a result of you or your loved one’s work-related injury, it is more than likely covered by a state’s workers’ compensation laws. There are some exceptions in Nebraska, so please contact a lawyer who is familiar with your state’s workers’ compensation system for more information and with your specific details.

Foot drop describes the inability of a person to lift his or her foot at the ankle due to weakness or paralysis of the muscles that lift the foot. Foot drop can be caused by several things including: an injury to the spinal cord, an injury to the nerve that controls the muscles involved in lifting the foot during hip or knee replacement surgery or during intramuscular injections, ALS, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, or muscular dystrophy.

Symptoms of foot drop include dragging your foot on the floor when you walk, walking like you are climbing stairs to prevent your foot from dragging, and numbness on the top of your foot and toes. Treatment options depend on the cause and severity of a person’s drop foot and include orthotics such as braces or foot splints, physical therapy, or surgery including decompression, nerve sutures, nerve grafting, nerve transfer, or tendon transfer.

Depending on the cause of a person’s foot drop, it may not be a lifelong disability. If the underlying cause is trauma or nerve damage it is possible for a person’s foot drop to improve or go away completely; however, if the underlying cause is a progressive neurological disorder, foot drop will likely continue as a lifelong disability.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in Workers' Compensation, Workplace Injury and tagged , , , , , , .

Workers’ Compensation Advocate David DePaolo Will be Missed

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David DePaolo

David DePaolo

David DePaolo, founder of WorkCompCentral, recently passed away. He was one of the most authentic individuals in the workers’ compensation industry, who often advocated for the injured worker in his blog posts.

Mr. DePaolo was an intellect, visionary and bridge to all sides of the table in the workers’ compensation arena. It is people like him that the workers’ compensation systems around the country need in order to make things fair, reasonable and just for all.

Thoughts go to his family and loved ones.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

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